Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Atlas Shrugged

Coming April 15th.

I don't know what it's rated, or if it's well-made, or whether the producers will seek to glamorize Ayn Rand's insufferable egoism, militant anti-Christian atheism, or sexual libertinism, but if they stick to the political message of the novel it could be a blockbuster.
Thanks to Jason for the link.

An Atheist Defends Himself, Sort Of (Pt. I)

Sensing, perhaps, that his performance in his debate against William Lane Craig last week left his fans and other atheists a bit dispirited Lawrence Krauss has posted a retrospective piece on the atheist/evolution blog Pharyngula in which he spends a lot of time insulting his opponent and some time saying what he wishes he had said during the debate. Having read his further ruminations I have to say I don't think they would have helped him against Craig. For all his accomplishments as a cosmologist Krauss just seems unable to understand the arguments Craig proffered in defense of the debate topic Is There Evidence for the Existence of God?

I'll consider a few examples today and tomorrow of how his clarification falls as flat as his original presentation. Craig presented five propositions which, he argued, constituted evidence (not proof) that God existed. Given the debate topic, Craig technically didn't even have to offer good evidence, although his five examples were, I thought, pretty good.

Craig's first argument was that the universe had a beginning and that whatever comes into being has a cause. Krauss' rejoinder is that, well, there are lots of mights and maybes that the universe didn't actually have a beginning. It could be eternal. That's possible, of course, though there's a lot of evidence that it did come into being in a primal explosion called the Big Bang in which case there's a lot of evidence that the universe has a cause of its existence, and evidence for a cause of the universe, it's reasonable to think, is evidence for the claim that God exists.

The second argument is that contingent entities like the universe require a necessary entity for their existence. Contingent entities are those, like you and me and your computer and your car, whose existence depends in some way upon something else. Ultimately, whatever is responsible for the existence of the entire series of contingent things must itself depend upon nothing else for its existence. Thus ultimately the universe, which it is reasonable to believe is contingent, must depend upon something which itself depends upon nothing else for its existence, i.e. something very like God.

Krauss' response is to aver that earthquakes and snowflakes can be explained without introducing God, so perhaps the same applies to the universe. This completely misses the point. The fact that some contingent things are the cause of other contingent things doesn't mean that an ultimate explanation of the totality of contingent things need not be a necessary being. The existence of contingent things is evidence for the existence of a necessary thing or being, which is how God is, in part, defined.

Craig's third argument is that the existence of objective moral duties requires a transcendent moral authority. Krauss replies by iterating a version of the Euthyphro dilemma (ED) as a rebuttal. However, the ED, despite its long pedigree, fails as an argument against the point Craig is making. It would take up too much space to go into here, but the interested reader can check here for more on the dilemma.

Krauss then adds this:
Lastly, if there is evidence that God provides absolute morality, it is missing from the world of our experience, where different religious groups, all of whom claim divine inspiration, have incompatible moral views, often leading to horrendous and violent acts against women and children, for example. Indeed, the Old Testament is full of such acts.
None of this is relevant. The point is not that if God exists everyone who believes in Him will know and do what's right. Rather the point is that unless there's a God there's simply nothing that is moral or immoral. There are just things that people do. As Craig would say, Krauss is confusing moral epistemology (i.e. knowledge of what's right) with moral ontology (the existence of moral right). Craig's argument is that since atheists do believe there are some things, like child abuse, that are absolutely and objectively wrong, they're either being irrational in denying God or tacitly conceding that there is a God.

More tomorrow.